The Concessionaire Did It

The Atlanta Braves are taking an interesting approach to fan retention this year. It’s their last year in Turner Field; they’ll open the 2017 season in Suntrust Park, about fourteen miles away.

And apparently they’d prefer not to move their current fans.

My evidence for this: the new menu items they’ve introduced this year.

I’ve written about the horrors of ballpark food before*, and matters haven’t improved. Quite the contrary: the Braves’ new goodies are so egregiously over the top that they’ve attracted international attention, scoring a writeup in that bastion of high-end journalism, the Mirror.

* Look, I’ve got a more-healthy-than-is-good-for-me appetite, but even so, there’s some ballpark food that intimidates the heck out of me.

The flagship for the Braves’ assault on their fans is the Burgerizza.

Observe. (Here’s a better view of the interior.)

That’s twenty ounces of beef–the equivalent of five of McDonald’s iconic Quarter Pounder–buried under bacon and five slices of cheddar cheese. And, instead of a bun, it comes on a pair of eight-inch pepperoni pizzas.

I’ll wait while you digest that–the thought, that is; I’m not sure the actual Burgerizza can be digested by anything human.

One hopes that the Braves have a gastroenterologist and a cardiologist on staff. Indeed, one hopes they also have a while-you-wait laundry facility, because it’s physically impossible to eat one of those things without getting tomato sauce, fragments of bacon, and a couple of slices of pepperoni on your shirt.

Not convinced that the Braves have decided to kill off their current fans and find a new set after the move? Take a look at the rest of the new menu items. Bleacher Reports’ rundown is thorough enough to give you indigestion just looking at the pictures, so I’ll just note the barbeque rib sandwich buried in onion rings and slathered in an energy drink-based sauce and the “Tater Tot Chop”, which appears to be a double handful of deep-fried mashed potato covered with “Coca-Cola-infused ketchup”.

The new stadium is about 10,000 seats smaller than the current one. Looks like the team has found a unique way to ensure that demand for seats doesn’t outstrip the supply. It’s certainly friendlier than the usual technique–raising ticket prices by 25% or more–but is it better?

Happy Valentine’s Day

If April 1 was New Years Day, then May 31 is Valentine’s Day: that early-year holiday that you don’t get off from work, but still make the time to celebrate because it’s the day when you show how much you love your spouseOur Team.

As of the end of yesterday’s game, Our Team has played 54 games, one-third of the season, and has won an astounding 43% of them. 23-31 is, of course, just about the exact opposite of what the faithful were hoping for. It is also just about exactly what the experts were predicting at the beginning of the season.

A mere week and a half ago, they were one game under .500, in second place in their division, and showing some signs of respectibility. Since then, they’ve gone 3-8, had a couple of players go down with injuries, sent a couple of the members of the “core team of the future” to the minors, seen their manager start a feud with the press, and generally look like a team that will be hard-pressed to maintain that 43% winning percentage the rest of the way.

And yet, it doesn’t matter. It’s still baseball, they’re still Our Team, and no team anywhere in the league has been eliminated from playoff contention yet.

Baseball is a weird sport in some ways. The 162 game schedule has a tendency to drive won/loss records towards the middle. In most years, a team that wins 60% of its games will run away with its division (as I write this, there are four teams with records better than 60%: St. Louis has the best record in baseball at 35-17 (67.3%), with Texas, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh tied at 33-20 (62.3%). Note that three of the four are in the National League Central Division, leading me to suspect that scheduling may play a factor there; I expect those percentages to fall as they play more games head-to-head. Texas, meanwhile, has gotten 58% of their wins within their division, which features three teams under .500. But I digress.) The point is that a 100 win season is fabulous, a 90 win season puts you in the upper third of the standings (only 9 of 30 teams had 90 or more wins last year), and even a .500 season can have a team in contention until the final weeks.

Winning streaks are just as possible as losing streaks. While the Mariners have been losing 7 of their last 10, the As have been winning 9 of 10 and three teams have won 8 of 10. A winning streak to counter the losing streak, and they’re back within range of .500. And it wouldn’t take that much. A small improvement in the bullpen (four of those eight losses came in the opponents’ final at-bat) and a small improvement in run scoring (they’re 7-9 in one-run games) would have their record looking very different. (And it’s the run scoring that would help the most, now that I look closer. Statistically speaking, their record is exactly what the standard formula predicts for wins and losses based on runs scored versus runs allowed. Score more runs without changing the defense at all, and the wins should follow.)

This is starting to get number-heavy. The bottom line is that it’s too early for any team, not even the unhappy Marlins with their 13-40 record, to give up. Even if contention seems beyond your wildest dreams, there’s still a chance for respectability.

No matter how rough things are right now, the relationship – and the season – can be saved. My advice is to go celebrate the holiday. Duck out of work early (Cubs and Diamondback fans, call in sick since you have an afternoon game), have a nice dinner together (hot dogs and peanuts are traditional, but modern classics such as the Braves’ “Hammer” [fried chicken, bacon, pepper jack cheese, and pecan maple mayo sandwhiches with waffles as the “bread”], the Dodgers’ two pound “Victory Knot” pretzel, or the Brewers’ “Pulled Pork Parfait” [pulled pork and mashed potatoes in a parfait-style cup] are all acceptable alternatives*), and talk out your problems scream yourself hoarse cheering.

* All foods listed here are courtesy of Buzzfeed. If you suspect that stadium concessions are designed to kill the fans, you just might be right.

Exception: Yankees fans are hereby advised that your (spit) team’s current 30-22 record is entirely unacceptable. My advice for you is to swing by the stadium, buy two “Sliders Family Meal Deals” (five sliders and a pound of french fries served in a plastic bucket), and arrange to have one delivered to your favorite player in the dugout. Take the second one home, turn off the lights, and eat it by yourself, alone in the dark. (Red Sox: you’re safe as long as you stay at least one game ahead of the Yankees, but remember the stricture that all teams must do at least one game worse than the Mariners this year…)